By Aline Strong
DECEMBER 22 4 AM
The ingredients for the last breakfast are ready. I spread the melted butter, toasted pecans, and extra large chocolate chips on the puff pastry. I cut it, creating small swirls of tan and brown dough, and sprinkle toasted coconut. I nestle each bun into my mother’s dark, old muffin tin, seasoned with years of baking, which accounts for my present figure. When I’m finished, I wipe my hands on my apron for the last time.
A crackle on the baby monitor startles me. It’s in Sally’s room because at three, she occasionally suffers from nightmares. She says something comes to hurt her and no one’s there to protect her. She has no Daddy at the moment.
A woman’s voice leaks out of the monitor: “It’s your turn.”
“Oooh, babe,” a man groans.
The woman’s voice snaps, “Get out of bed and feed that baby!” There’s a loud thump, like a body being pushed onto the floor.
Picking up signals in the ether is unnerving. The first time I experienced it, I heard a cops and robbers TV show. At least, I hope it was a TV show, what with the gunshots. Another time it was a romantic interlude that a stranger—that’d be me—should not have heard.
Unfortunately, my model is out-of-date. I should buy a better one, and I will if the B&B ever makes a profit, and if Dale ever pays child support. Meaning, it’ll be a while.
I slip the tray of buns into the hot oven, and within seconds the smells of warm yeast, melting chocolate, caramelizing sugar and cinnamon fill the air. I’ll wait to eat one. I will wait at least until my guests have two each, no, at least one each.
These may be the last guests I ever have at Riverwood B&B.We are located off the beaten track in the Village of Forest River, an hour north of Toronto. “A little North, a little Nicer,” that’s the Village slogan.
I’ll miss the smiling faces at the breakfast table. They’re a vast improvement over the morose faces I lived with as a kid with my mother and father, or the angry face of Dale, my husband, who is presently in an affair with another woman.
I’ll also miss the naïve questions my American guests ask. They think Canada is England.
“Where’s the best fish and chip restaurant?” There are none. “Do you have any pubs in town?” Yes, but they’re terrible. “Do you serve spotted dick at breakfast?” Not only do I not serve that, but the question alone makes me blush.
The better-informed European tourists ask after poutine, which is French Canadian, so wrong province. Fiddleheads come from New Brunswick, sorry, and crab cakes are best in Newfoundland.
But one and all know to talk about hockey. Unfortunately, no, I can’t get them tickets to the game tonight. I explain they’re sold out for every game in spite of the fact the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley cup since 1967.
I tell them I don’t root for the Leafs; I root for the Los Angeles Kings, who actually win games. This goes over very well with the Americans who like to win at everything.
The baby monitor crackles again. There’s a gasping noise then an ear-splitting scream. I freeze. An hysterical woman’s voice cuts the air.
“What you do? You suffocate him? You bad! I tell.”
There are thudding noises, like people running. What on earth’s going on?
Then a different woman’s voice snarls, “If you don’t shut up, you’re next. Come back here!”
“No, stops push me!”
“You deserve this!”
Then I hear a strangled cry, a door slam, silence.
I press my hand to my heart.
Suddenly, a man’s voice rings out. “What did you do?”
The woman’s voice is inaudible. She’s too far from the monitor now. “You killed them? You maniac!”
Kill? They killed someone? I slump onto a kitchen bar stool.
He roars, “Keep this a secret? To keep my secret? I’ll kill you!”
There are running footsteps. Then all is quiet.
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